Taking a Few Steps Back in Time – Tavaputs Ranch & Range Creek

Posted On
Apr 08, 2010
Southern Utah
By Monique Beeley


The Book Cliffs stretch nearly 200 miles from east to west, from where the Colorado River descends south into Grand Valley in Colorado to Price Canyon in Utah. The unique and amazing cliffs are composed of sedimentary materials - the name is derived from the Cretaceous sandstone that caps many of the buttes to resemble a shelf of books.


Deep in the heart of the vast wilds of the Book Cliffs lies Tavaputs Ranch. This 15,000-acre working ranch offers the best of the "True" Wild West experience. Located 50 miles east of Price the sprawling ranch sits proudly at 8,500 to 10,000 feet, a marvelous high elevation oasis in the wilderness.


While driving to the Ranch we gratefully felt the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day life slowly slipping away.  We stopped several times to get out and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the wilderness. We spotted many deer bounding off from the roadside into their wilds as we made our way to the Ranch. Upon arriving we were considerably more relaxed as we took in the incredible scenery in every direction.


We were welcomed by our hosts/ranch owners Butch and Jeanie Jensen, their daughter Jennie and son Tate.  Tavaputs is a true working ranch and the entire family takes pride in making it thrive.  Jeanie invited us into the dining area for fresh lemonade and some delicious homemade cookies.  The room's wrap-around windows allowed us to take in panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.  Jeanie gave us a brief description of what we were observing in the distance - the Tavaputs Plateau, 5000 feet above the floor of Desolation Canyon and the Green River.


As we sat on the deck watching the glowing sun sink ever so slowly over the western Utah horizon the air was filled with the aroma of burgers cooking on the double-barrel BBQ.  We were famished from the long day and dinner was wonderful; delicious local beef cooked perfectly with all the trimmings!


Ten PM, lights out. The stillness of the wilderness filled the air as we sat on the porch of our cabin enjoying this brilliant star-lit night. Stargazing is truly incredible when you are so remote and far from the lights of modern day civilization.


We woke just before dawn. Feeling well rested and anxious for today's adventure, we walked the grounds in anticipation of a beautiful sunrise, signaling in the beginning of a new day.  A tour of Range Creek was our destination of the day and we were excited to have Butch and Jeanie as our guides for the incredible journey.


Jeanie grew up on the Wilcox Ranch at Range Creek and has first-hand knowledge all the wonders of this area.  "With my grandparents Budge and Pearl, parents Don and Jeanette, Uncle Waldo and Aunt Julie, cousins and older brother we all lived there on the home ranch and spent many, many days out exploring the beauty of the canyon" said Jeanie. The University of Utah conducts their summer archeology field school in the area, where students are able to spend weeks at a time living at the Wilcox Ranch and working to uncover some of the treasures still hidden in the canyon. When asked how she feels about the University of Utah's custody of Range Creek, Jeanie replied "It makes us feel good to know that they are taking such great care of the area."


In 2001 Waldo Wilcox, entering his 70's quietly sold the Range Creek property to the nonprofit Trust for Public Land. Subsequently, federal and state agencies arranged for the land to be deeded to the State of Utah. Scores of archaeologists flocked to the site in amazement of the extensive ruins and how well they were preserved. Fully intact pit houses, granaries stuffed with corncobs a thousand years old, arrowheads, beads, pot shards and stone-tooled remnants were strewn everywhere. It was as if nothing had been touched. Thanks to the foresight of the family landowners over the years, and always keeping "mum's the word" this area is one of the last untouched archeology sites in the country.


The mysterious Fremont people inhabited the area from 200 to 1300 AD.  In 1300, they migrated away from the creek to points unknown.  What spurred this migration remains a subject of speculation.  The Fremont culture either died out or was absorbed by other peoples sometime after that.  One of the most intriguing aspects of the area is the granaries they constructed.  Many of them were built into sheer cliffs sometimes as high as 900 to 1200 feet above the canyon floor.  Of the 15 percent surveyed by the University of Utah, some 300 granary sites have been located.  There are also numerous pictographs and petroglyphs, collapsed pit houses and smaller artifacts such as tools, arrowheads and pottery.  Among the more astounding finds at Range Creek was the discovery of a large wooden flute measuring 27 inches long with three finger holes.  To date, it is the only such flute of its size and nature to be discovered.


Range Creek is currently owned by the State of Utah and managed by the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah.  Some have called the area a "virtual time capsule."  Years of private ownership, extreme care and vigilant protection of this 1600-acre archeological site combined with natural isolation and harsh climate has served to protect much of the archeological evidence of the Fremont culture. Exactly when they disappeared from Eastern Utah is debated, but it's now known that they lived in many different settings like Range Creek and were amazingly able to adapt to all of them.


Editor's note: Tavaputs Ranch was awarded the 2009 Leopold Conservation Award. This prestigious award, named in honor of world-renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, is presented annually in seven states to private landowners who practice responsible land stewardship and management. The Jensen Family manages natural resources on its property in a manner that allows the land to improve and flourish.






Archaeology, Western, Ranch, Range Creek